By Jo Scott, Careers Leader at Thornton College


Apprenticeships are growing in popularity as businesses offer them internally, hoping to upskill or re-skill their existing workforce. The archaic perception on apprenticeship is evolving meaning that more and more school leavers who can’t afford or don’t want to go to university are looking for avenues to earn as they learn. Unfortunately, a big proportion of businesses believe young people are unprepared for the world of work and hesitate to offer apprenticeship opportunities for school leavers. To understand the importance of promoting degree apprenticeships at schools we spoke to Jo Scott, Careers Leader at Thornton College.

What are your thoughts on degree apprenticeships?

Degree apprenticeships are fantastic! Personally, I only have positive thoughts about them and am super keen to promote them to all students. However, the stumbling block is there are not enough of them and often companies use the schemes to further develop their current workforce.

My thoughts are that degree apprenticeships are meant to be an alternative to university, and predominantly for school leavers. I would love to see more companies looking at ways to attract school students. From a company’s perspective, it is a huge opportunity to employ young people at an age where employers can mould and train them to fit with their values, forming a strong foundation for employee loyalty and engagement.

Do you think there is an appetite from students to apply for apprenticeship roles?

Yes, I do. However, they do become despondent fairly quickly if there are not roles available in the sector they are interested in, and they cannot find out about opportunities.

What are the most frequent questions you get asked from students who are looking for apprenticeships?

Where can you find them and in what job sectors are they.

What are the biggest obstacles for students who want to become a degree apprentice?

The biggest obstacle for students is finding out about them! There is no central hub where ALL degree apprenticeships are advertised. Many companies do not use the Government website. Companies release vacancies at different times of the year, and often change this from year to year, which means students are not aware of when and where to look. For degree apprenticeships to be successful they need to be accessible and plenty of them!

Regarding recruitment, all too often the degree apprenticeship selection process is exactly the same as the one designed for graduates. Companies need to make their recruitment age appropriate and remember that a 17-year-old is very different from a 21-year-old!

How important is it for students and their parents/guardians to know more about apprenticeships?

It is hugely important for students AND their parents to know more about apprenticeships. At Thornton College, we host regular information events and talks giving up-to-date information about opportunities. By inviting current apprentices to speak to our students, we facilitate conversations around the pathway.

Is the knowledge on apprenticeships high or low?

Knowledge around apprenticeships has grown but it is about educating parents/guardians as well as students. Traditionally, apprenticeships were considered as a second-tier pathway to university. Holding outreach events at schools and including parents is a way of informing and educating about these great opportunities. It is important to emphasise that it is far harder to get a degree apprenticeship than it is to get a place at university, and this tells you everything about how amazing they are!

What advice would you give to employers who want to hire a school leaver apprentice?

Students work towards submitting their UCAS form from the September of Year 13. If apprenticeships could be advertised in the autumn for entry the following September, this would massively simplify the process for students. Companies wishing to promote their schemes could also reach out to local schools, sending fliers etc. They could also either give a short live presentation or perhaps record a presentation that they send to schools.

What about employers who may be hesitant to employ young apprentices?

I think insight days are great. Companies could host days and target specific year groups, such as Year 11 or 12. These days could inform and perhaps involve a few interactive activities. There could also be workshops on employability skills and suggestions to students about how to build them. These could either take place at the workplace or be hosted by a school who could invite other students to join. Opportunities for work experience placements would also help prepare students and most schools look for these in the summer term.

Is there anything universities can do to make the apprenticeship process easier for students?

University providers could publish a list of the companies that students can apply to for degree apprenticeships and give the dates of when they are released. Often students may see a degree apprenticeship advertised by a university, only to find that actually you have to find a partner company to employ you first.